Chinese food in the Netherlands: Dutch-Chinese food 101

Chinese food is, let’s be honest, the staple food of Dutch people too lazy to cook. There’s a massive amount of Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands: from takeaway to high-end eat-in-a-floating restaurant kind of place.

As a culturally aware expat living in the Netherlands, you must have heard native Chinese complain about the Chinese food one can eat here. Ever wonder why they’re being so critical?

Most so-called Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands that do delivery are not proper Chinese food, but something of a hybrid between Indonesian cuisine and Southern Chinese cuisine. 🍛

Hence, you will see restaurants offering this kind of “Invented in the Netherlands” Chinese food with the apt descriptor: Chinees-Indisch.

Here are some features of this new breed of comfort food that Dutch people love so much!

When getting Chinese food in the Netherlands, expect names you can’t pronounce

The names of the dish are transcribed into the Latin alphabet, meaning that even Chinese people wouldn’t understand at first glance.

chinese-food-eating-with-chopsticks
Yummy Chinese noodles! 🍜 Image: Pexels

Despite this, Chinese restaurants are going strong in the Netherlands. “Foo Yung Hai”, “Tjap Tjoy”, “Tau Foe”, “Tjap Ha”, “Koe Yuk” — these are just some words that almost every properly fed Dutch kid knows.

Luckily, restaurant owners are usually kind enough to put the Dutch — and sometimes even English — descriptions of what the dishes are under the unfamiliar names.

Enjoy meat or fish — and often both!

Europeans, especially foodies, often complain about how meat and fish should not be mixed in the same meal, let alone in the same dish.

Dutch-Chinese restaurant menus may have different sections for meat and fish, but don’t be surprised if you find big chunks of beef in your oyster sauce with your squid dish or pieces of shrimps in your stir-fry pork. 🍲

You know the best (worst if you have allergies) part? This isn’t always written on the menu, because, just like the saying on your fortune cookie, they’ll tell you that the surprise is always positive.

Expect an avalanche of food when you get Dutch-Chinese food in the Netherlands

chinese-food-at-restaurant
Doesn’t that look delicious. 😍 Image: Unsplash

Some of us may have this experience: no matter how many times you have ordered takeaway, it never ceases to amaze you how much food you are given.

Sambal: you’re going to get it whether you want it or not

sambal-pepper-sauce
You get sambal with your Chinese food in the Netherlands, even though it’s from Indonesia. Image: DepositPhotos

I’ve mentioned that Chinees-Indisch food consists of a lot of Indonesian and Southern Chinese cuisine. Especially Southern Chinese cuisine because most of the Chinese restaurant owners (or their forefathers) are Cantonese speakers from the South of China.

In Southern cuisine, spicy food is almost non-existent, because it is simply way too hot to eat spicy food when the temperature is hanging around the thirties most part of the year. ☀️

Of course, this would not apply to people living in the Netherlands where summer days’ temperatures are rarely over twenty degrees, or my Dutch-Indonesian friends, who apparently carry mini-bottles of Sambal in their bags for on-the-go.

Congratulations! The Chinese food you eat in the Netherlands can’t be found in China!

Given the prevalence of Chinees-Indisch food here, you might think that you would find this everywhere back in China.

But, you would also be very proud to know that you won’t find it anywhere else in the world. (Okay, maybe in Chinatown in Indonesia, or Indo-town, if it exists, in China).

Dutch-Chinese food apparently fits into every occasion. Wait, really?

dim-sum-chinese-food
Chinese Dim sum, who wouldn’t want a bite out of that? 😋 Image: DepositPhotos

I love Chinese food, but I wouldn’t want to eat it all the time. Let’s say you are invited to a movie night or birthday party or, even Christmas at a Dutch household. You will inevitably run into the situation where your Dutch friends are pouring boxes of Chinees-Indisch takeaway onto their dinner plates.

And best yet, they announce that (surprise!) dessert is a going to be sweet rice pudding ordered from a Dutch bakery. (Well, rice pudding is actually Dutch.) 🍮

You can’t blame your Dutch friends. After all, ordering Chinees-Indisch food is just one of the most convenient and cost-efficient meals of all.

It is the kind of food you won’t mind presenting to your visitors — unlike delivery pizzas that remind everyone of all-nighters in college or shoarma that brings up memories of partying till 5 am and being as hungry as a cow.

At least it fills the stomach without, arguably, making you too bloated unlike like the all-occasion Dutch borrel food!

Have you had Dutch-Chinese food yet? What do you think of Chinese food in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2019, and was fully updated in April 2022 for your reading pleasure.

Anna Chow
Anna Chow
Anna Chow is a consumer researcher based in Rotterdam. Originally from Hong Kong, she has worked in China, the United States, and Germany before ending up in charming South Holland. She has been around since 2012 and is loving it.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. Here we go again: ,,in the Netherlands where summer days’ temperatures are rarely over twenty degrees” So untrue you know. The current year will have problably close to a hundred days of 20+ on a average of about 78. By all means, this is not ‘rarely’

  2. I absolutely am spoiled now for American Chinese Food as it is nothing but bland, compared with the Dutch Chinese food…OK..Indo-Chinese. It is one of th things I miss from the Netherlands, and was always ordered when we wanted a take out. When returning home to Holland for a visit, we as a family always ordered Chinese. When I first went to Holland and met my now husband, I treated his family to a meal, and yes, it was at an Indonesian-Chinese restaurant. I’ve tried to get some recipes to use here in California, but alas, have not found a site for recipes.

  3. I still wish I could find the recipe and spices here in California for the Indo-Chinese foods that I loved in the Netherlands. Contrary to what the writer said, we ate it, not because we were lazy but because we love it.i am not sure why this writer was so negative but she writes in a way that she doesn’t like the food. Write a disclaimer on the article then, but don’t bad mouth foods that many others like. The American Chinese is so bland that I have to add hot sauce to it to even enjoy a bit of it. And the weather is written as inaccurate; there are many days warmer than 20 degrees.

  4. Man this is so true. I’m annoyed by the fact that there are no high quality Chinese restaurants in the Netherlands. Or I just haven’t seen one yet?

  5. This article was helpful. I recently moved to Rotterdam and trying to figure out the “Chinese” cuisine here. After being in the food industry in Southeast Asia for 19 years, understanding the taste pallet of Dutch people puts me back to square one. Hey Anna let me know if you are interested to share more of your insights with me. Would definitely appreciate it.

  6. Yeah no, I grew up in Los Angeles, where we have a chinese fast food restaurant in every corner, also not legit chinese food but still great ofc. The chinese food I tried in Mexico is amazing though, also Mexican inspired chinese lol but oh good gracious!!!! Now being here in the Netherlands, I have yet to say I have tried good chinese food, of I’m given the option to get take out Chinese or anything else I will for sure choose the latter

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